Students fasting for 11 days, no end to Calcutta Medical College impasse in sight
The indefinite hunger strike launched by students of Calcutta Medical College and Hospital, one of the oldest in the Asia, entered its eleventh day on July 20, with number of fasting students increasing from six to 21. The students are demanding hostel facilities for the senior MBBS students.
Founded in 1835, it is one of the premiere medical education institutes in Bengal. Students are agitating since June 29, demanding open and transparent counselling for hostel allotment on the basis of seniority of students and distance of their home from the college – a norm that was in practice since 1977.
However, no hostel counselling took place over the past three years, which forced more than 100 students in the second, third, fourth and final years to stay in rented accommodation, or as paying guests.
“I am hopeful of soon reaching a solution favourable to the students,” said acting principal Ramanuj Sinha on Friday.
He took charge earlier this week after the college’s principal Uchhal Bhadra complained of chest pain and was hospitalised. Sinha met senior health department officials twice on Friday.
West Bengal Medical Council president and MLA Nirmal Maji did not take calls.
Over the past five days, pressure has been steadily building on the authorities. Guardians and senior doctors participated in day-long hunger strikes on Monday and Tuesday, respectively, and the house staff and interns have struck work on Wednesday. A delegation of Left MLAs paid the agitating a visit on Thursday.
“Six students started the hunger strike on July 10. Two of them were hospitalised and force-fed, following which two other students replaced them. On Wednesday, 15 more students joined the agitation, taking the total number of students on hunger strike to 21,” said Rumelika Kumar, an intern.
This is the third major students’ movement in Kolkata over the past three weeks. Students of Jadavpur University (JU) withdrew their five-day hunger strike on July 11 after the authorities met their demand and students. The demands of Presidency University students were also partially met after they launched an agitation.
The trigger to the present crisis was a notice issued by principal Uchhal Kumar Bhadra at the end of June, stating that a newly built 11-storied hostel would be allotted only for students of the first year and post-graduate girl students.
Students allege that the new hostel can accommodate nearly 800 students, whereas the strength of the first year students is only 250.
Following this, 80 students who were living in rented accommodation came to the college with all their belongings on June 29 and started living at the general common room. A sit-in demonstration was launched outside the office of the principal.
Trouble intensified after Bhadra called the police on July 5.
“Bhadra said Medical Council of India’s anti-ragging guidelines require segregating first year students. This is not true. In case of space crunch, freshers can be kept on separate floors in the same building with adequate security,” said Punyabrata Goon, a prominent health activist and an alumnus who participated in the token hunger strike on Tuesday.